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Cleopatra as Fatale Monstrum (Horace, Carm. 1. 37. 21)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

J. V. Luce
Trinity CollegeDublin


The pregnant phrase fatale monstrum comes at a crucial point in the third and longest of the three sentences of the ‘Cleopatra Ode’. Before it Cleopatra is being hissed from the stage of history with cries of disapproval; after it she is recalled to receive plaudit after plaudit for her courage and resolution. The phrase is emphasized by its position at the start of a stanza followed by a marked pause. Prima facie it is the climax of the vituperation, and has often so been taken. T. E. Page, for example, comments: ‘Horace speaks of Cleopatra as not human, but a hideous and portentous creature sent by destiny to cause horror and alarm.’

Copyright © The Classical Association 1963

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page 251 note 1 The most recent discussion of the ode known to me is by MrCommager, Steele (Phoenix xii [1958], 4757).CrossRefGoogle Scholar He regards the similes of w. 17–20 ‘as a kind of pivot diverting our sympathies from Caesar to Cleopatra (p. 48)’. On the meaning of fatale monstrum he simply refers to Fraenkel's, E. treatment (Horace, p. 160). I agree entirely with his penetrating observations on the structure and movement of the ode, and with his verdict that ‘the transition is meditated rather than impulsive, and the Ode's second half answers the first in contrapuntal detail (p. 50)’. I differ from him in locating the ‘pivot‘ in fatale monstrum rather than in the similes, and attempt to justify this by drawing out the implications of the phrase in greater detail than has hitherto been done.Google Scholar

page 251 note 2 In the punctuation of Wickham and Klingner. Keller and Holder make four sentences with a full stop after monstrum, while Kiessling-Heinze treat the whole ode as ‘eine groΒ e Periode’. If Kiessling-Heinze are right this will be the longest sentence in the Odes. The next longest appears to be Carm. 4. 4. 128Google Scholar, which also shows a central and focal phrase in bella … Drusum gerentem (vv. 1718). These periods in their stately complexity resemble single-sentence sonnets like Keats's ‘Bright star …’.Google Scholar

page 251 note 3 Edition, ad loc. Cf. Doering, F. G. in his edition (Glasgow, 1826): horrendae et inauditae cupiditatis mulierem, fato quodam a diis iratis Romano imperio immissam, quam graviter!Google Scholar

page 251 note 4 Grummel, W. C. (C.J. xlix [19531954], 360) actually states that Cleopatra was described as fatale monstrum in the ‘propaganda war preceding Actium’. He appears to suggest that Horace prepared his transition by using a notoriously jingoistic phrase which his more liberal readers would mentally put in inverted commas: that ‘deadly monster’, as she was called, but she wasn't really so despicable after all. But this account would make the use of the phrase ironical, and irony appears to be quite out of keeping with the tone of the ode.Google Scholar

page 251 note 5 This paper was already well advanced when I found that Arnaldi, F. (Orazio, Odi ed Epodi, 4th'edn., Milan, 1956)Google Scholar has emphasized fatale monstrum as the key phrase in the ode. He begins his introduction to the ode as follows: ‘II centro logico e sentimentale dell’ alcaica è fatale monstrum (v. 21) che non vuol dire soltanto “mostro fatale” ma sintetizza il problema umano e storico di quella creatura, donna, femmina sino alia follia regina, sino all'eroismo.’ He does not, however, develop the meaning and associations of the phrase as explicitly as I try to do in what follows.Google Scholar

page 252 note 1 For convenience of reference I number them as follows: (1) Carm. 1. 2. 6Google Scholar; (2) ibid. 1.3. l8; (3) ibid. 3. 4. 73; (4) ibid. 3.27.48; (5) ibid. 4. 4. 63; (6) Epod. 16. 30.

page 252 note 2 Servius, commenting on Virgil's use of monstrum in Aen. 3. 59 writes: nam medium est, quia interdum dicuntur et bona.

page 252 note 3 Porphyrion (Meyer): fatale monstrum] aut afato sibi servatum aut detestabile dictum hoc accipiamus, quasi decreto fatorum nobis obiectum.

page 252 note 4 Pro Caelio 1214.Google Scholar

page 253 note 1 Cf. thechagrinofhisearlierandlessliberal references to Antony and Cleopatra in Epod. 9. 1112: Romanus, eheu! (posterinegabitis), jeman- cipatus feminae… . Cf. also the feelings of the Athenians about Artemisia as reported by Herodotus (8. 93. 2) : .Google Scholar

page 253 note 2 Carm. 3. 3. 18ff.Google Scholar, as noted by Kiessling- Heinze (8th edn.) and others: ‘“verhängnisvoll” im eigentlichen Sinne; nur durch den Willen des Schicksals konnte sie solches Unheil bringen; cf. Verg, . Aen. 2. 237fatalis machina.’Google Scholar

page 254 note 1 Renard, M., ‘Horace et Cliopatre’ in Études horatiennes (Brussels, 1937), pp. 189–99Google Scholar, seems to take fatale monstrum simply as meaning that Cleopatra was ‘une calamité publique’ (p. 199). He refers to Porphyrion's note, for which see p. 221, n. 3. In the same spirit is Shakespeare's: ’The death of Antony/ is not a single doom; in the name lay / a moiety of the world.’ Ant. & Cl. v. i. 1719.Google Scholar

page 254 note 2 Op. cit., p. 267.Google Scholar

page 254 note 3 Is there a hint of this in Porphyrion's fatis sibi destinatum?

page 254 note 4 Cf. Carm. 3. 3. 912; 3. 14. 1–4.Google Scholar

page 254 note 5 Steele Commager, art. cit., p. 53, who gives detailed references.Google Scholar

page 254 note 6 Virg, . Aen. 8. 698Google Scholar. Cf. Prop. 3. 11. 41.Google Scholar

page 254 note 7 Propertius touches on the Apollo-Python theme in his Actium ode, 4. 6. 35–36. For an exhaustive treatment of this theme as the paradeigmatic ‘combat-myth’ see Fontenrose's, J.Python (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1959). One of his general conclusions is: ‘The Champion fought not a single enemy … but two great enemies, male and female, of whom the latter was even more terrible.’ This motif of a double combat is particularly appropriate to the case of Octavian v. Antony and Cleopatra. I am indebted to Professor D. E. W. Wormell for drawing my attention to Fontenrose's book.Google Scholar

page 254 note 8 The styling of prostitutes as Chimaera, Scylla, etc., seems to have been a commonplace of Greek comedy. See Orelli and Kiessling-Heinze, ad loc. and on v. 19, and Fontenrose, op. cit., pp. 309f. Professor W. B. Stanford has drawn my attention to the description of Clytemnestra as in Aesch. Ag. 1233.Google Scholar

page 255 note 1 Doering's note on daret ut catenis makes clear the connexion with the triumph pro- cession: eo scilicet consilio, ut ex more solemni catenata ante currum triumphalem duceretur. Cf. Carm. 2. 12. 1112Google Scholar and Epod. 7. 8.Google Scholar To the same complex of ideas belongs an image in the most consciously Pindaric of all the Odes, 4. 4. 11, Drusus as an eagle swooping on reluctantes dracones, yet another instance of the heroic in pursuit of the monstrous. Did Shakespeare remember his Horace when he makes Antony chide Cleopatra with the words: Follow his chariot, like the greatest spot Of all thy sex; most monster-like be shown …? (Ant. & Cl. iv. x. 4849)Google Scholar

page 255 note 2 Plutarch in discussing the conduct of Antony and Cleopatra twice makes explicit references to passages in the Platonic dia- logues (Ant. 29. 1 and 36. 12).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

page 256 note 1 vv. 9–10: contaminate cum grege turpium / morbo virorum, where the use of morbus for vice is typically Platonic.

page 256 note 2 This point is well put by Commager, Steele, art. cit., p. 51.Google Scholar

page 257 note 1 According to Plutarch (Ant. 69) she did take some steps to transport her fleet from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, but the project ran into difficulties. If Horace knew of this scheme he gives her more credit for rejecting it than was perhaps due to her.

page 257 note 2 According to Tarn, , C.A.H. x. 110, the asp in Egyptian belief ‘deified whom it struck’.Google Scholar

page 257 note 3 Steele Gommager emphasizes the ‘counterpoint’ of the ode, especially in regard to the two types of drinking (art. cit., p. 50).Google Scholar

page 257 note 4 See Steele Commager's excellent comparison of the ode with Antony and Cleopatra, art. cit., pp. 5455.Google Scholar

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